Through Its Olympics Sponsorship, Toyota Is Making A Bold Bid To Transcend The Humble Car

This month’s Winter Olympics will launch careers and create legends, but it also spearheads Toyota’s crusade to transcend the humble automobile and refashion itself as a mobility company.

That’s why the Japanese automaker’s new global campaign, which kicked off during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after previewing during Super Bowl LII, doesn’t feature any cars. “Start Your Impossible,” an overcoming-the-odds-themed collection of nine videos, aims to highlight Toyota’s shift from an automotive company to one with a broader mission. The one-minute spots showcase technology yet to come, including concepts for a human support robot that can retrieve objects and an artificial intelligence-powered driver safety system called Guardian.

The campaign coincides with Toyota’s debut as the first “mobility sponsor” of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Through the eight-year partnership starting in Pyeongchang, the automaker – whose booming car business now belies its origins in the 1920s as a loom manufacturer – is making a big bet on the word “mobility” and broadening the term to comprise movement of the human body in general.

Toyota is far from the only automaker to seize “mobility” as an industry buzzword that’s come to encompass a wide range of technology tangential to transportation. But, while Ford and General Motors have used the term in speeches and campaigns over the last few years, Toyota’s highly visible sponsorship may confer a first-mover advantage, according to Michael Bernacchi, a marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. “If Toyota has been aggressively ‘branding it,’ the other automakers must be careful not to fall into the deep hole of genericism or whatever Toyota is not.”

Toyota’s deal with the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees, signed in 2016, will continue through the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, rival Hyundai’s home turf, seemed an improbable place for the Japanese automaker to start, given that Hyundai and its Kia sister brand have their own local sponsorship agreements to serve as the official automobile partner.

Hyundai provided around 3,800 vehicles to athletes and organizers, showcased its fuel cell technology at its pavilion in the Olympic Village, and demonstrated its autonomous vehicle capabilities to attendees. Toyota, which had no pavilion or vehicles at the Games, is likely to make a bigger splash at the next Olympics, the 2020 Summer Games, which will be held in Tokyo.

Sports, CarsJaclyn TropForbes